The Prophet They Deserve

Monday, October 21, 2019

Pundits of all stripes often speak of Ayn Rand as a prophet whenever recent events play out like those in her novels or her better-known commentary. Often, conservatives use the analogy in a "told-you-so" sense before flitting off to complain about the next entirely predictable result of cultural trends they'll fail to challenge, or even abet. And then there are leftists, who use the term derisively. When they're not putting words in her mouth in an effort to discredit her analysis, they're grasping at straws to portray her as a hysterical alarmist.

The most recent event that made me think of Ayn Rand was Venezuela's inclusion on the UN Human Rights Council, as reported by a major conservative blog:

Venezuela is a tragedy but the United Nations is a joke. The UN's Human Rights Council is composed of 47-members who are elected to three-year terms by UN members. Today, Venezuela was elected to one of two seats reserved for Latin American nations thanks to support from other socialist states...
No. Hot Air didn't then go on to report this as yet another prophecy by Rand, but they could have:
We need more reason, and less mumbo jumbo... (Image by Danny Trujillo, via Unsplash, license.)
Psychologically, the U.N. has contributed a great deal to the gray swamp of demoralization -- of cynicism, bitterness, hopelessness, fear and nameless guilt -- which is swallowing the Western world. But the communist world has gained a moral sanction, a stamp of civilized respectability from the Western world -- it has gained the West's assistance in deceiving its victims -- it has gained the status and prestige of an equal partner, thus establishing the notion that the difference between human rights and mass slaughter is merely a difference of political opinion.

...

Who, but a concrete-bound epistemological savage, could have expected any other results from such an "experiment in collaboration"? What would you expect from a crime-fighting committee whose board of directors included the leading gangsters of the community? [bold added]
That the socialist gang running Venezuela is now an officially recognized champion of "human rights" is a travesty that should cause any nation serious about individual rights to at least threaten to withdraw from the UN in protest. (This assumes such a nation somehow was a member in the first place: I further agree with Ayn Rand that we shouldn't even be a member of the UN.) But I will not hold my breath. There will be no push to do this from the left, who want to flush our country down the same socialist toilet.

And the right? Note the terms tragedy and joke: Much stronger terms are in order. The suffering and death caused by the "Bolivarians" are atrocities; and the UN is an abomination. But the right has failed for so long to challenge the altruistic base of socialism that I would be surprised to hear the first of those more proper terms used. And worse, so many accept so much of the culture uncritically that they additionally treat the UN as a metaphysical fact rather than as the man-made institution it is, hence the impotent sarcasm of calling the UN a joke.

So, although nobody has said this is yet another fulfilled prophecy, it is. And these will keep coming until more people listen to and heed the warnings -- or until they can't keep coming. In the latter case, the real tragedy (for innocent victims, such as children) and the real atrocity (by those capable of thinking or acting to avert it, but who do not) will be the fact that any and all of these "prophecies" can be averted with the exertion of mental effort and moral courage.

-- CAV

Updates

Today
: Changed caption and reworded a sentence.


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, October 18, 2019

Four Things That Happened in the Garage

As I mentioned last week, I've been chipping away at a post-move wall of boxes in our garage during (part of one of) the wee hours in order to beat the Florida heat. I have been very happy with the progress and the end of that tunnel is surprisingly close. Here are four side-benefits, of varying degrees of importance and in no particular order.

1. The task requires some occasional focus, but my mind is free to wander. This has led me to notice two things I can use.

First, since I am doing this task piecemeal, my subconscious works on it while I am doing other things. I have had several very good ideas on how to do this task and organize the house that I don't think I would have had otherwise, if I tried doing it in big chunks. Doing other large tasks might benefit from this approach, and I now have something to try the next time I hit a wall on one.

Second, the non-demanding (but not brain-dead) mental nature of this project provides time and opportunity to think, which reminds me of what Alex Epstein called altitude in one of his human flourishing project podcasts. I have gotten some good thinking done regarding both a good problem I currently have and a difficult circumstance I will soon face.

In other words, I'm getting the benefit of my slow-working subsconscious for this job and others. I am also getting extra time to focus on other problems while I do this.

If I do take up home brewing again, I'll look into kegging rather than bottling. I had inconsistent results with bottles. Feedback from any experienced home brewers out there is welcome...(Image by Adam Wilson, via Unsplash, license.)
I am now thinking about incorporating more of that kind of project regularly into my schedule. A couple of old hobbies of mine -- home brewing and model railroading -- strike me as possible candidates that could take up the slack when I don't have something I need to do, like the task I am doing now.

2. My son asked the other day about his huge teddy bear. I found it this morning and I am looking forward to his reaction when he finds it sitting on the couch after he wakes up.

3. Part of living in Florida is having to be prepared for hurricanes. I have had several good ideas for doing this while plowing through the boxes. For example, I (once again) found several (more) bottles of sunscreen and bug spray. Here we go again, I thought, Where am I going to put this? Almost instantly, I realized I could put the newest sunscreen into our hurricane supplies and use our oldest -- this batch -- first. Whenever we need another bottle of sunscreen, I can get it from the hurricane supplies and put sunscreen on the shopping list, to replace what we just took from that reserve.

This means we won't get caught without sunscreen at home and I won't have to worry about old sunscreen should we need it when it is hard or impossible to buy it new.

4. My wife and I are both former academic scientists. This means we have a fair number of old boxes with papers. Most of this can go, but needs sorting. My wife has little time for this, but I have thought of a solution that also translates well to the biggest headache, which is the bulk of the kids' toy collection. I call it staged sorting.

Using the papers as an example, I don't know what my wife will regard as important enough to keep or discard. But there are clear categories of things in her boxes and I do know enough to be able classify those things. (I'll make sure with her that I am correct.) So I can get the boxes through a preliminary sort. Then my wife can do the part I can't do later, when she has the time.

-- CAV

P.S. I had another great idea while hunting for images. Our house is new, and so follows a recent fad for very high ceilings. I just realized I could have a handyman install some very high shelving in our laundry room to make use of some of the wasted space in there.

It's my blog: I'll think out loud if I want to...


A Climate Change Trope in the Abortion Debate

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Writing at Quillette, Steve Jacobs claims in his title, "I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Wasn't Popular." The closing of his article is more important than his data:

A group of men, just waiting to be interviewed so someone can twist their words into something else entirely and attribute that to them. (Image by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez, via Unsplash, license.)
In my research, I was not advocating for such a [policy] compromise [on abortion]. However, advancing my own preferred outcome was not the point of my academic project. My goal was to use my training to establish common ground, learn whether a compromise was possible, and report on the most likely form such a compromise might take. An important takeaway is that both sides do agree on the arbiters of the question of when life begins.

While the justices in Roe could not answer the difficult question of when life begins, the U.S. Supreme Court might well revisit this question in the future. The Court can trust the uncensored viewpoints of biologists and acknowledge that scientific experts affirm the view that a human's life begins at fertilization -- even if some would prefer that this fact be hidden from view. [link omitted, bold added]
Before we go on, here go the data: "... 96% of the 5,577 biologists who responded to me affirmed the view that a human life begins at fertilization."

The scientific consensus -- with a high percentage attached! -- being hijacked to affect a political debate reminds me of a title from the climate debate: "'97% of Climate Scientists Agree' Is 100% Wrong." The fact that Jacobs's claim reminds me of that title is no coincidence. After asking (1) "What exactly do the ... scientists agree on?" and (2) "How do we know the 97% agree?" Epstein states:
The 97 percent claim is a deliberate misrepresentation designed to intimidate the public -- and numerous scientists whose papers were classified by Cook protested...

...

Think about how many times you hear that 97 percent or some similar figure thrown around. It's based on crude manipulation propagated by people whose ideological agenda it serves. It is a license to intimidate.

It's time to revoke that license. [bold added, link omitted]
Within the Quilette piece, Jacobs quotes some rather crude protests by some of the biologists he surveyed once they caught on to why he was querying them. His personal position is not clear in the article, but his framing of this issue as a scientific debate and his apparent willingness to consider the presence of a full set of chromosomes in a cell as sufficient for someone to be human (and in full possession of rights) make me suspect that the scientists are guessing correctly. (He asked them if a fertilized egg was "biologically human." See: "What were they agreeing on?")

And it is true that their words can and will be used to argue against abortion rights.

But, as Ben Bayer of the Ayn Rand Institute notes, "Science Without Philosophy Can't Resolve [the] Abortion Debate:"
There is a new push by prominent opponents of abortion to cloak their position in the mantle of science, and claim that anyone who defends abortion rights is a "science denier." 1 This push has been the impetus for an onslaught of legislation aimed at restricting abortions on both the state and federal level.

In response to this push, most abortion defenders have reacted by claiming that the anti-abortion partisans are the real "science deniers."

This whole debate is a mistake. The science invoked by abortion opponents appears to support their case only through the lens of very particular philosophical assumptions. Since abortion defenders do not challenge their opponents' philosophical assumptions or argue for alternatives, it is little surprise that their battle looks like a rearguard action in a war that has already been lost. [bold added]
Bayer goes on, after citing several examples, such as the presence of pain receptors in the fetus, of science being misused to claim rights for the fetus to say:
The fundamental philosophical question at the heart of the abortion debate is whether a being like the embryo or fetus has a right to life. A few ordinary observations should make clear why the specialized scientific findings considered so far will not help us answer this question.
I recommend reading the full article to anyone truly interested in the abortion debate.

Steve Jacobs may have a PhD, and he will probably get journal articles out of his survey. But his results are just the latest in a new line of meretricious attacks against abortion rights that ape the equally fraudulent use of "science" by the Luddites of the left.

-- CAV


Whom Magical Thinkers Support

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Hugh Hewitt devotes a column to explaining why conservatives support Donald Trump. It is mighty thin gruel to this radical capitalist, but I may have learned a valuable lesson about conservative punditry in the process of thinking about who the audience might be.

Consider that Hewitt never explicitly mentions the left, only (perhaps) obliquely dismissing its "dismay" as manufactured. And so a great chance went begging: Hewitt should have at least noted that every single Democrat who might run against Trump supports policies that are so depraved and ruinous as to understandably make anyone who enjoys some modicum of control over his life and property consider running into Trump's arms at the next election.

The fact that that's the strongest argument to vote for Trump -- although hardly an airtight case -- is enough to hope that a better candidate than Trump could emerge even from the Democrats. And yet Hewitt never brings it up, either in such hopes, or to light a much-needed fire under Trump, or to make the prospects of the Democrats winning less horrendous, even if only down the road.

Instead, he speaks of Trump's "genuine and possibly lasting conservative reforms," citing as an example two executive orders pertaining to "regulatory dark matter," such as "guidance documents." Here's a sample:

Trump is bringing down the hammer on the guidance-addicted bureaucrats, building on earlier actions by former attorney general Jeff Sessions and former associate attorney general Rachel Brand. [bold added]
Maybe. For now, until some crafty functionary finds a new way to circumvent the law. And via an order a future President can easily overturn, anyway.

And later:
Image by Julius Drost, via Unsplash, license.
After joking that he himself might have been the target of such "guidance letters" in the past, Trump hit the crucial note: "Because of these materials and the fact that these materials are too often hidden and hard to find, many Americans learn of the rules only when federal agents come knocking on the door," he declared. "This regulatory overreach gravely undermines our constitutional system of government." [link and bold added]
Please note that Trump's objection is not to such rules, let alone regulation as such: It's to the rules being hard to know in advance. And when an allegedly anti-regulation official speaks of "overreach," you know that he finds some regulatory "reach" acceptable. That said, if this is "bringing down the hammer," it's doing so to fight a cockroach infestation. It may be noisy and it is, strictly speaking, "doing something," but it will be just as effective.

He can't, but it isn't because he can't get the legislation he needs to remedy the problem that Trump is signing this executive order. It's because he has no fundamental problem with central planning: He didn't ask by what right the government plans our lives. There is no larger or long-range plan to rid America of this huge, long-known, and well-documented burden, of which "dark matter" is just a particularly pernicious manifestation.

And, as if making a mountain out of this molehill weren't enough, Hewitt goes on to say:
Really? How could the alleged destroyer of democracy make such an argument? He explained: "Unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats must not be able to operate outside of the democratic system of government, imposing their own private agenda on our citizens." And certainly not by unsupervised regulatory statists.
Democracy is mob rule. We live in a republic, and the essential characteristic of our system is that it protects individual rights, a phrase I cannot recall Trump ever saying. Trump may not be actively destroying the republic, but he is not actively saving it, either. We need better, but we won't get better by pretending otherwise.

So Hewitt never calls out the depravity of the Democrats, and his hero, Trump, does not fundamentally oppose the government planning our lives via a bureaucracy. We can see from this "genuine and possibly lasting conservative reform" in its full context.

So conservatives support Trump. And Trump does not fundamentally oppose the Democrats. What might Ayn Rand -- of whom Trump professes to be a fan; whom so many leftists like to equate with the right; and whom so many on the right like to quote or damn as they wrongly deem expedient -- have to say about that?
Today's culture is dominated by the philosophy of mysticism (irrationalism)-altruism-collectivism, the base from which only statism can be derived; the statists (of any brand: communist, fascist or welfare) are merely cashing in on it -- while the "conservatives" are scurrying to ride on the enemy's premises and, somehow, to achieve political freedom by stealth. It can't be done. [bold added]
Trump trying to sneak in a little bit of freedom by executive order is a nearly perfect encapsulation of how he operates. And wishful thinking by conservatives to the effect that this is "bringing down the hammer" or "owning the libs" is their magical thinking on display. The best we can truly hope for from Trump is that he buys time to fight for freedom.

Hewitt is preaching to the choir because he knows only they will see it this way, and because he needs to fool himself most of all. What a waste of what little is left -- in time or scope -- of your freedom, Mr. Hewitt: Our republic will not change for the better until people who understand and uphold freedom make their case to the general public in a way that will change enough of their minds.

The conservatives, who have squandered every mandate to lift economic controls, from Reagan on, are not the ones who will do so. It is because they can't and, deep down, they know it.

For those who value liberty, be wary of this when following conservative commentary: It does often cover things leftist media outlets like to hide, but it has its own way of lulling its audience.

-- CAV


Build Your Day With Blocks

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Having recently encountered planning advice I largely agree with, I also encountered a problem: I either incorrectly recall the advice or I can't take it because I usually can't devote whole days to any one type of work. In part, this is due to circumstance: I have kids, and must plan my time around their schedules. But I also know from experience that I need breaks from intense concentration. Through some measure of trial and error, I realized I needed to schedule in terms of blocks of time, rather than entire days, but I wasn't completely sure how to go about it.

An Internet search turned up an article about time blocking at a site calling itself "Productive Flourishing."

After explaining that the timing and number of blocks of each type is dependent on individual circumstances (e.g., what time of day is best for focus), the piece lists four types of scheduling blocks:

Image by La-Rel Easter, via Unsplash, license.
  1. Focus blocks are 90-120 minute blocks of time where you're especially creative, inspired, and able to do high-level work that requires focus.
  2. Admin blocks are 30-60 minute lower-energy blocks of time where you're not in the zone to do the work that requires heavy lifting, but there are still other types of work you can do effectively.
  3. Social blocks are 90-120 minute blocks of time where you're primed and energetically in the right space to meet with other people.
  4. Recovery blocks are variable-length blocks of time that you use for exercise, meditation, and self-care.
What I like about this advice is that it helps bridge the gap between Cal Newport's Deep Work and David Allen's Getting Things Done. Newport is up front about blocking out time for creative work for the maker, but does not focus so much on the manager-like elements we still have to attend to, to borrow Paul Graham's terms. (See last link.) And then, of course, Allen is good about having lists for different contexts and doing tasks consonant with one's energy level. But I find that creative work is not so amenable to lists and, when it is, one project needs its own list, apart from everything else. This kind of scheduling allows for separation of these widely different kinds of work and can drastically reduce decision fatigue by helping one plan deep work in segments of focus blocks, as the article explains in more detail.

-- CAV


Sanders Hands Own Head to Fascist Warren

Monday, October 14, 2019

Whether Bernie Sanders intended it or not, he gave Elizabeth Warren the endorsement of her dreams last night on national television:

Image by Lawrence Jackson, via Wikipedia, public domain.
"There are differences between Elizabeth and myself," Sanders, I-Vt. [sic], said in an interview with ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl. "Elizabeth, I think, as you know, has said that she is a capitalist through her bones. I'm not."
Sanders was a distant third behind Senators Biden and Warren before his heart attack, and here appears to be taking a desperation swipe at Warren. Attacking from the left makes some sense; but doing so this way will not help him. And their far-left base will see this for what it is. The anti-capitalists who support Warren will correctly view her claim as a pitch to a more moderate base -- and about as cynical and credible as her well-known, fraudulent claims of Amerindian ancestry. This will not persuade them to shift allegiance. (And they are correct that Warren is not a capitalist: She is a fascist.)

The ones who might shift allegiance are those those who do not understand what capitalism actually is, emphatically including those who imagine that capitalism has to be "saved from itself." This is a large swath of moderate Democrats and independent voters -- who might remember what Sanders said as Biden's ship continues taking on water. As I put it some time ago:
[T]he nomination will go to (a) whoever succeeds in helping voters pretend everything is fine (Biden, so far), (b) helping voters pretend they are in the right (Warren, so far, but with Harris catching on; see also "Why the Left Can't Let Go of Racism"), or (c) both (possibly Warren, which makes her the most dangerous). [links omitted]
So here we have it. In his outburst, Sanders has made himself look desperate to their base -- and Warren palatable to voters outside their base. Many of the latter aren't really paying attention, so all they'll get is that Warren isn't some raving socialist nut like that Bernie. And being tired of histrionics already, thanks to Trump, they might see her as the moderate, calm, electable alternative that Joe Biden never really was.

-- CAV

P. S.: For anyone who isn't sufficiently alarmed at the prospect of a President Warren, I urge you to listen to Yaron Brook's analysis. When I called Warren "dangerous" back then, I was mainly thinking of the Green New Deal. That isn't the half of it.


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, October 11, 2019

Four Things

Several years ago, I decided that each Friday, I'd take a break from the negativity of the news cycle and make a list of four things I find interesting or enjoyable. I still do that most weeks. But recently, I started ending each day (or starting the next morning) by making a list of three wins, big or small, from the day. Here are four of those from the past month, excluding (a) the lack of a visit from Hurricane Dorian, (b) my good time hustling art with my son, and (c) my discovery of a way to finally get the garage clear of moving boxes...

1. On the anniversary of my father's death, I remembered, "I was very lucky to have Pops as a dad."

Image by Jan Kolar, via Unsplash, license.
2. While we were visiting with my brother in another part of Florida, I took a look at the house with a Nest camera, and heard an Echo/Alexa alarm going off. We used to use the Nest cameras as child monitors and I remembered that it's possible to speak into the phone app and be heard through a small speaker built into the camera. So I tried to silence the alarm by saying, "Alexa, stop!"

It didn't work, probably because the sound quality from the Nest camera isn't great and it was sitting across the living room from the Echo. It was fun to try, though.

3. For ages, I have had a chronic problem completing my weekly review, during which I had scheduled looking at all my project tracking files.

So I set aside an entire Friday afternoon to accomplish this.

If by "fail," you mean I still didn't make it through them all, I failed. But I did get through quite a few, and more important, I saw a better way to do this part of the weekly review: Just do a few each week and note where I left off. Pick up there the next week and repeat.

Now, I know I'll at least look at everything from time to time, no matter how many things I am tracking.

4. We took the kids to Disney last weekend. At one point, while standing in line, I heard my six-year-old son's voice. He was frustrated and upset about something.

That something was that he'd managed to trap his arm between the metal frame of a movie poster and a guard rail.

I tried moving his arm vertically, in case he'd inserted it through a slightly wider part of the gap, then tried to pull out from a narrow part. No dice.

So quickly I am still amazed, I realized that (a) I needed to lubricate his arm, and (b) that water is a lubricant.

"Stop panicking," I said to my son. "Do you have some water," I asked my wife.

Using the bottle she produced from the bowels of her backpack, I moistened his arm and immediately got it out, earning applause from a foreign tourist behind us.

-- CAV

P.S.: It was fun reviewing my wins for the month. This has been a part of my day I look forward to, and I highly recommend this practice.

Updates

Today
: Corrected wording in Items 2 and 3.